Because driving a commercial vehicle requires additional skills beyond those needed to drive an ordinary passenger vehicle, drivers of commercial vehicles must obtain a special commercial driver's license. They are held to higher standards than other drivers. A commercial vehicle (CMV) is typically very large and may be used to carry more than 15 passengers or haul a heavy load. If you live in Alaska, many of the laws relating to a commercial driver's license are controlled on the federal level. However, there are also some state-specific laws.
Alaska's CDL Rules
Alaska-specific requirements include the following:
- In Alaska drivers of commercial vehicles must carry minimum amounts of insurance coverage. For a single incident, $200,000 for property damage and $500,000 for bodily injury or death are the required amounts, and proof of this insurance coverage must be filed with the Alaska Department of Transportation in Anchorage.
- Background checks are required for all drivers renewing licenses that allow them to transport hazardous materials, all drivers seeking to add a hazardous materials endorsement, and all drivers applying for an original Alaska CDL with a hazmat endorsement.
You must obey routine driving laws in the state, such as the speed limit or other basic laws of the road. If you fail to comply, you will get points on the commercial driver's license just like a driver of a passenger vehicle would. The difference is that you will get more points for the same offense and can lose your license if too many offenses occur.
Too many offenses or traffic violations can lead to the loss of a CDL. For example:
- Serious traffic violations include driving 15 miles or more above the posted limit, driving recklessly, improperly or erratically changing lanes, following another vehicle too closely, driving a CMV without a CDL or without having the license in your possession, and driving a CMV without the proper class of license or endorsement. Traffic offenses committed in a CMV in connection with fatal traffic accidents is also considered serious.
- If you commit 2 of these offenses involving a CMV in a 3-year period, your CDL will be suspended for at least 60 days.
- Your CDL can be suspended for at least 120 days for 3 or more offenses within a 3-year period.
"Disqualification" is the term used when you lose your CDL. Someone who is disqualified is not allowed to drive a CMV, regardless of the reason for the disqualification.
In addition to the general violations, CDL drivers can also be subject to penalties and consequences for problems unique to commercial drivers:
- If you fail to keep a logbook or falsify a logbook, you may be punished by up to 6 months of jail time.
- If you violate grade restrictions by driving on a road where a commercial vehicle is not permitted due to the road's grade, you may lose your CDL for up to 60 days, even on a first offense.
- If you are involved in an accident involving a CMV, leaving the scene can result in the loss of your commercial license for a minimum of at least 1 year. The same is true of driving a CMV with a suspended CDL, committing a felony that involves the use of a CMV and causing a death by operating a CMV with negligence. For a subsequent charge related to any of these offenses, you will lose your CDL for life.
Many of these penalties are actually imposed by the federal government, and so apply not only in Alaska but anywhere in the U.S.
DUI Charges and Your CDL
The ramifications for driving while under the influence are serious for an individual with a commercial driver's license.
- If your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is 0.04 percent or higher, you may not drive or operate a commercial motor vehicle.
- If you operate a CMV, you have given your consent to be tested to see if and how much alcohol is in your blood.
- If your blood alcohol content meets or exceeds 0.04 percent while driving a CMV, your CDL will be suspended for at least 1 year if you have no prior offenses. If it is your second offense, you will lose your CDL for life.
- Your CDL may be suspended for a minimum of 1 year if you refuse to be tested for alcohol in your blood.
- If any of these offenses occur while you are driving a CMV placarded for hazardous materials, your CDL will be removed for at least 3 years.
- Your CDL is also going to be removed for life if you commit a felony involving controlled substances, and a CMV is involved.
- If you have detectable alcohol in your blood that is under 0.04 percent, you can expect that you'll be prohibited to drive or "taken out of service" for a period of 24 hours.
Your CDL and Your Personal Vehicle
If you lose your driving privileges because you committed a violation in your personal vehicle, your CDL will also be suspended accordingly.
Options for Defense
Commercial driver's license violations are a major concern for most people because loss of a CDL can lead to loss of your job and livelihood. If you have been accused of a violation, you should strongly consider getting legal help. Your lawyer can help explore possible defenses depending on the circumstances, such as faulty radar equipment or improper search, or can otherwise help you to minimize the consequences of a CDL violation.